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Serial Killer

20060205: Budding serial killer on verge of execution OH Akron Serial Killer News

On New Year's Day in 1986, Trina Bowser was munching nachos and watching the horror movie Christine with her best friend.

Minutes later, the 21-year-old would find herself in her own horror story -- strangled, raped and left to die in the trunk of her burning car.

Her killer left what had come to be his ugly signature: her underwear tied and knotted around her neck.

It was to be the last of the crimes attributed to Glenn ``Bimbo'' Benner II, a man whom Bowser knew and trusted as a casual friend, and who is to be put to death by lethal injection Tuesday.

The 43-year-old Springfield Township man has been on death row since his conviction for murdering Bowser and another woman, and raping and assaulting others 20 years ago.

Throughout those years, he has fought to delay his execution -- appealing his conviction and taking the state of Ohio up on its offer to test his DNA, in the thought that advanced testing would absolve him of his crimes.

The testing didn't.

Detectives believe Benner was a serial killer in the making.

``He was a cold, cold person, and he looked right through you,'' recalled Summit County Sheriff's Capt. Larry Momchilov, one of the detectives to investigate Benner's crimes. ``There's nothing good you can say about Benner.''

Benner's background

By many accounts, Benner had a normal childhood. He was the youngest of five children, the only son of a long-distance truck driver. He got his nickname from his father's, ``Bim.''

The younger Benner was a football player and wrestler, an average student who started drinking and smoking marijuana in his early teens.

At 17, upset over falling grades and problems with his girlfriend and football coach, Benner tried to commit suicide by sticking an exhaust pipe hose through his car window.

His only serious brush with the law came in his senior year when he pleaded guilty to credit-card misuse.

A year after Benner's 1982 graduation from Springfield High, his mother died of a heart attack. He was close to her and was despondent, according to reports.

In 1984, he married his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Rhonda Golec. The two lived with Benner's sister and brother-in-law in the family home on Broadview Road in Springfield Township.

The future looked rosy: Benner had a job working for Michael's Construction Co. in Akron; Rhonda was a licensed practical nurse. The couple were poised to move into their own home -- a $50,000 bilevel in Canal Fulton -- in January 1986.

But something else had been going on in those preceding months: Several area women fell prey to vicious assaults. They were choked until death, or nearly so.

``Each victim suffered an extremely brutal and violent end,'' Summit County Coroner William Cox said at the time.

Blossom murder

`Benner's' first known victim was Cynthia Sedgwick, 26, a secretary from Cleveland Heights.

She had attended the private Laurel School in Shaker Heights, where she received an art award and graduated in 1978. She was attending night classes at Cuyahoga Community College when she met Benner at Blossom Music Center on Aug. 6, 1985.

Sedgwick was on a double date, but she largely ignored her friends and roamed the grounds, tipsy, to the music of blues-rock guitarist George Thorogood.

When the concert ended, Benner's friends saw him steering a pretty blonde toward a wooded area. They waited by their car for him to show up; finally, they left.

Sedgwick's friends waited for her, too. Finally, they figured she had found a lift back home. They left.

Six days later, a Blossom parking lot attendant discovered Sedgwick's nude and decomposing body in a densely wooded area. Her bra was tied around her neck.

Her father, James Sedgwick, put up a $10,000 reward that supporters quickly matched, but it would be months before he learned what had happened leading up to the murder of his only daughter: that Benner had lured her into the woods, held her there while the crowd left, and then raped and strangled her.

Because Benner's own ride had left, he then walked to a Lawson's store at state Route 8 and Steels Corners Road and called an unsuspecting female friend for a ride home. He told her his friends had left without him.

He was more honest the next day at work.

``I killed a chick at Blossom last night,'' Benner told co-worker Robert Tyson, then 26, of Springfield Township. ``That's the last time. I'm not going to do it again.''

Two assaults in fall

On Sept. 26, Benner and Tyson were pouring concrete in Akron's Goodyear Heights neighborhood. A 38-year-old woman who lived nearby asked for a quote on a job.

Days later, she was hanging a picture in her home when Benner and Tyson slipped through an unlocked door. Benner slapped her, pushed her down and raped her repeatedly while Tyson stole $12 from her purse.

Benner was so violent that Tyson eventually pulled him off the woman and apologized for the assaults, he later told police.

Meanwhile, Benner stole a wine bottle containing coins and fled. The two left separately and didn't meet until the next day at work.

``Did you finish her off?'' Benner asked, according to police reports. When Tyson said no, Benner smelled trouble: ``Now we're going to get caught.''

At 6:30 p.m. Nov. 19, 1985, the two men were driving around when Benner saw a woman jogging along Howe Road in Tallmadge.

At Benner's instruction, Tyson dropped him off.

Benner pushed the 18-year-old University of Akron student off the road and tied masking tape around her head and eyes. She asked him to remove the tape because it hurt her eyes, and he did, giving her a chance to see his face -- one she later would identify from police mug shots.

She tried to run, but he pounced on her, choked her and left her for dead; he did not rape her.

When she revived, she ran naked to a nearby home for help. Her bra was wrapped so tightly around her neck that a hospital surgeon had to cut it off.

She returned to class at UA two days after the attack. Today she is an orthopedic surgeon in another city.

Trina Bowser

As for Trina Bowser, she was cautious and neat, a wholesome girl, recalled Momchilov of the sheriff's department.

She was a good student in the Tallmadge schools, helped clean a church on Saturdays and worked for a real estate agent in high school.

She loved snow so much she would store a ball of it in the freezer each winter, her mother, Joyce Bowser, later would say.

She was a much beloved daughter, the last of five children, the only girl.

``She was one of the greatest kids you'd ever want to meet. She could talk to anybody,'' said Dennis Leeks, father of Trina's best friend, Cheryl.

Trina and Cheryl (Leeks) Schrengauer became friends at Hammel Actual College. They talked every day and were planning a trip to Myrtle Beach.

``She was really classy, a nice dresser,'' Schrengauer recalled. ``There weren't many things that were wrong with her.''

Trina was at the Leeks family's Stow home until about 9:45 p.m. on New Year's Day 1986. She had turned 21 a week earlier, on Christmas Day. She was wearing a favorite gift -- a fake rabbit coat from the Fashion Bug.

Trina begged off early. She was going home, she said. She had to work the next day at the Arnold Corp., where she was a secretary.

To this day, the Leekses believe she had no plan in mind other than a good night's sleep.

Murder of Bowser

What happened next remains unclear.

Trina lived with her parents, whose home was only two doors from the house that Glenn and Rhonda Benner shared with Lori and Michael Quinn, although the Bowsers' address was in Tallmadge and the Quinns' was in Springfield Township.

Did Trina meet Benner on the road? As she pulled into her driveway? The hours are lost.

She wouldn't have been afraid of Benner, her friends and family told police. She knew him from the neighborhood.

Just after midnight, on Jan. 2, passers-by saw fire flickering in Trina's 1982 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme on the berm of eastbound Interstate 76 in Tallmadge.

Someone had started a fire by igniting Trina's Pound Puppy stuffed animal. The passer-by found Trina's identification and called her family.

The Bowser family still relives the horror of those next minutes, according to statements they made at Benner's clemency hearing in late January.

Joyce and Willard Bowser and their son, Rodney, opened the trunk to find Trina's body.

Her legs were bound with silky curtain tiebacks that police later matched to those in Benner's new home. She was wearing pink socks; her body was covered by her new coat.

Her bra and panties were bound around her neck.

Footprints led from the car to a body shop. The shop owner later would testify that he had seen an off-white Ford pickup truck -- one later found to be Benner's -- there around midnight.

Tyson comes forward

``We worked 24 hours that day,'' recalled Tallmadge Police Chief John Kafka, then a detective. ``There was an extreme amount of pressure'' to solve the murder of such an ``apple pie and mom and USA'' type of girl.

The key was to come from Benner's inner circle -- his co-worker Tyson, who haltingly approached a minister, then police, with the details he knew of the crimes. Benner had to be stopped, Tyson insisted.

``We told him, `As long as you're not involved in the murders, you can walk out of here,' '' Momchilov recalled.

Although both Benner and Tyson later admitted to the Goodyear Heights assault, Benner in the following months denied any other wrongdoing. The only problem he had, he told Norton psychologist James Siddall, who interviewed him for the court, was the ``bad things'' other people and newspapers were saying about him.

But he already had been found guilty in the assault of a 19-year-old bicyclist in Portage County on Aug. 29, 1985, and he was suspected though not charged in a rape in Stow.

Just weeks after Bowser's murder, Benner was indicted in it and in the Sedgwick murder, and in the assaults on the two other women.

Benner's trial

By April, he was being tried before three judges in Summit County Common Pleas Court.

Evidence was plenty, detectives say, including pieces of Trina's fake fur coat found at Benner's home in Canal Fulton.

Larry Whitney, one of two lawyers to represent Benner, said the trial was difficult. ``It was hard for him to overcome the number of counts and the prejudice that brought with it,'' he said.

Whitney tried to find inconsistencies in Tyson's accounts to police. ``It was important that the jury not believe him,'' Whitney said. ``Obviously, they did believe him.''

It took the judges three hours to find Benner guilty of 17 counts. Those who knew Benner were shocked, Whitney said. ``No one could believe he was capable of doing what he was alleged to have done,'' he said.

Few people, however, publicly are defending him now.

His father, sister, brother-in-law and ex-wife did not return phone calls.

His former friend Tyson, who spent three years in prison for the attack on the Goodyear Heights woman, also declined to talk, but his story did not end after prison.

Because Tyson was the link to solving the Sedgwick murder, he pursued the $19,500 in reward money. When he received only $600, he sued Blossom Music Center and others in 1991. His lawyer, Douglas Maher, said that the case was settled and that Tyson got about one-third of the full amount.

As for Benner, he has said in statements issued from death row that he has changed and is ``now a new person.'' He says drugs fueled his ``horrific'' crimes.

He has said he will address the Sedgwick and Bowser families at his execution. Twenty years after their murders, it will be the first time he has spoken to them.


Copyright 1995-2005 by Elisabeth Wetsch
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